Tag Archives: humor

Remember When We Didn’t Need A Planetary Protection Officer?

When I saw NASA’s advertisement for “Planetary Protection Officer,” I knew that it was the job for me.  I have always been concerned about interplanetary missions accidentally bringing alien germs back to Earth.  Although I did not have the required degree in physical science or math, I hated being around sick people, especially people who are sniffling or coughing, and I knew that this trait would make me the most qualified candidate.

My first task upon being hired was to install hand sanitizer dispensers on all spacecraft, with a sign stating that all personnel were required to use it on their hands before entering the spacecraft.  It seemed easy, until I realized that the alien life forms would probably not be able to read English.

So instead I drew several diagrams of aliens placing their hands underneath the dispenser, their hands filling with foam, and then the aliens rubbing their hands together.  But then I realized that the aliens might not have hands.  So I added a few more diagrams that were exactly the same, except in each one the hands were replaced with a different extremity: tentacles, claws, wings, hooves, fins.  I thought I’d covered every possible combination, until some staffer asked, “What if the alien is a gelatinous blob?”  I replied that gelatinous blobs would obviously be far too weird-looking to be allowed on Earth.  I then arranged to have the staffer transferred to a less challenging department.

Next, I drew diagrams demonstrating how aliens should cover their mouths if they coughed or sneezed.  This was a much larger project, since not only did I have to cover a wide range of potential types of hands, but also types of mouths.  Then it dawned on me that some aliens might have more mouths than extremities capable of covering them all.

This problem really had me stumped, until I realized that the thing to do was draw several diagrams, one showing the cough coming from one mouth, then another showing a sneeze coming from another mouth, and so on, with each drawing showing the hand or fin or tentacle covering just the mouth that was coughing or sneezing.  It came out very clear, and I marveled at my success in communicating with extraterrestrial life.

My third task was the most challenging.  I have always considered it my mission, and a difficult one at that, to convince people who have runny noses to grab a tissue and blow their noses, rather than sit there sniffling all day.  We all know what it sounds like when someone with a runny or stuffed up nose chooses to sniffle it back rather than expel it into a tissue.  And then makes that same choice again, and again, and…again, all day long, day in and day out, when there are plenty of tissues right there for the taking, especially when a well-meaning co-worker is holding the tissues out and offering them for free.

With it being so difficult to get humans to use tissues, I knew it would be even harder to convince lifeforms from other planets to blow their noses rather than sniffle?

I struggled with the problem, until I realized the truth was staring me right in the face: sound doesn’t travel in space.  The aliens could sniffle all they want, for no one would ever hear them.  I patted myself on the back for solving a problem with no cost to the taxpayers, and thought about tackling my next big project: extraterrestrials abusing cough syrup.

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Remember When You Had Never Heard of a Leap Second?

Today at around 8:00 p.m. everyone received an extra second.  Scientists do this every now and again to make up for the wobble in the Earth’s rotation.  Otherwise, in a few centuries sunrise would take place at noon.  So they add a leap second.  It’s a nice gesture, and my only complaint is that they don’t announce it in advance so that I might have planned to do something with the extra time.

Instead of adding the leap seconds piecemeal, they should save them up and then spend 15 or 20 leap seconds together.  I mean, there’s not a heckuva lot you  can do in one second.  One second is barely enough time to straighten your collar or check that there’s enough money in your wallet to go set a Slurpee or something.  But with 20 seconds – now we’re talking some real time.  You could microwave your coffee that’s been sitting on your desk unsipped because you keep getting interrupted by emails about a new “office refrigerator policy.”

Or you could floss in between a few pairs of adjacent teeth.  Probably couldn’t floss them all in 20 seconds.  But, then again, many people do not floss at all.  Imagine if a few times a year the entire universe of people who do not regularly floss stopped whatever they were doing and flossed for 20 seconds.  The trajectory of dental history would be altered forever.

Or we could even use the 20 seconds to recite the theme song to a television show we liked as children.  Twice a year people could plan what theme song they would sing in those 20 seconds.  They could even plan to gather in one place and sing the same song.  People who hardly knew each other could gather in the cereal section of the supermarket and sing the theme song to Charles in Charge.

Of course, the planning of how to use the extra 20 seconds would take up many non-leap seconds.  That’s the problem with these things.  People take it too far.  There would be books and podcasts and three-day webinars at $299 early registration, all promising to teach you how to get the most out of the next scheduled chunk of 20 leap seconds, “just like the pros.”

So much real time would be used in planning for the leap time that scientists would be asked to stop letting the leap seconds accumulate, and to stop announcing the leap seconds in advance.  And so little would now be said about the leap seconds that the scientists would forget to schedule leap seconds at all.  And after several centuries, we would all be sleeping until noon, which is what everyone wanted anyway.

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Remember When You Couldn’t Get a Head Transplant?

Last month a doctor said that he was planning to undertake the world’s first head transplant.  The operation is as simple as it sounds.  Take the head of one body and surgically reattach to another.  The articles discussing the planned operation, which is apparently going to take place in China despite all of the interest that Western countries have in seeing this real-life Lego project, seem focused just on the source of the head.  No one seems to be discussing where the body will come from.

Maybe there will be no body at all.  Perhaps the idea is to reattach the head to a mannequin’s body, like the kind you see modeling clothes at the mall.  Imagine how many more outfits will be sold when the customers, looking for the right size or for something that will match their Kindle Fire, notice one of the mannequins moving its eyes to follow them throughout the store.  It will certainly put an end to shoplifting.

Or maybe the head could be reattached to the body of a large kid’s toy.  Imagine how popular the toy would be?  No need for batteries or pulling a cord.  The head just speaks.  The box that the toy comes in would have to detail what the head was going to speak about.  The toy manufacturer would have to interview the head and find out what it knows.  Maybe the head comes from someone who majored in physics or chemistry or ancient history.  Think about how much kids could learn.  On the other hand, the head may have come from someone who watched nothing but HBO programming, and parents will have to censor the doll and get to tone down its language and imagery, perhaps by making it watch whole seasons of Downton Abbey, until the head-doll starts addressing the kids that play with it as “M’Lord” and “Your Ladyship.”

Or maybe they will locate a body that is fresh and available enough and comes with few enough questions asked as to be ready to receive a new head.  But who is to say there will be only one head needing a transplant?  What if there are two?  The surgeon will have to sew two heads onto the same body and hope they like the same kinds of movies.

Of course, this is all fantasy.  No head transplant is going to take place because no insurance carrier is going to pay it.  It doesn’t have a procedure code.

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Remember When Your School Got Its Own Tank?

I’m sure you’ve all heard by now of the school district that obtained an armored vehicle – actually, a Mine-Resistant Ambush Protected vehicle or MRAP if you want to impress someone – from the United States military through its Excess Property Program.  The vehicle was free, and the district had to pay just the cost of transportation, which was $3.95 for regular ground, or $5,000 for 2-day express.Tank1

I remember when my school got its first tank, the graduating seniors’ class gift to the school they loved so much.  At the dedication ceremony, the Class President, Class Vice President, and Class Risk Assessment Manager spray painted the sides of the tank with “Woo Hoo Class of Awesome!  To Thine Own Self Be True!”  There was an after-party, mainly for those three people, where they ate pizza and discussed what they were going to do with all their Barron’s review books.

Some concerned parents managed to have the tank classified as dangerous, so the school had to keep it under strict lock and key in the A/V room, along with the televisions on those tall skinny carts.  The School Tank, as it came to be called, was taken out for special events like Homecoming, where the Homecoming King and Queen would ride atop the military vehicle, holding flowers and wearing their crowns, and waving to the crowds in the stands.

The following year, a neighboring school district, a rival in football, basketball, and Monopoly, got its own tank. It was larger and shinier than ours, and at the Memorial Day parade, at which all high schools in the region could march in whatever formation they liked as long as it met federal safety standards, their tank got more cheers from the crowds of parents and siblings.

Over the summer, the school diverted some funds earmarked for social studies books and ordered up another tank. This one was bigger and shinier than even the tank that our rival had obtained. Next to our first tank, it was a giant. We started calling them Big Tank and Little Tank. At lunchtime now, the school paraded the two tanks, sometimes Big leading, sometimes Little, around the track. All students could look out the window and see the two tanks parading.  The tanks were driven by students, and for some reason this job attracted the same students who were in charge of the audio/visual technology.

At the Memorial Day Parade, Big Tank and Little Tank rolled down our town’s main thoroughfare in triumph. Parents and siblings cheered loudly and the day appeared to be ours. But then a sound…a buzzing chop-chop sound filled the air and all were quiet.

And then we saw it. A helicopter with a bad drawing of a wildcat – the mascot of our rival school – spray painted on the side.  The tank was rolling on the street, directly underneath the helicopter, with balloons floating from the nozzle of the gun.

This was absolutely the last straw. Classes were cancelled for a week while school officials sold books and some desks where the chair and desk are fused together to get another military vehicle. As we sat at home and wished we could be back in English class reading Wuthering Heights, we speculated on what the new vehicle would be. What could be more impressive than a helicopter?

The Warren G. Harding High School Air Craft Carrier was delivered via overnight courier. Since our physical school building was not that near the water, we had to be relocated to a coastal town on the bay. It was a lot windier but we didn’t get as much snow.

One night our radar caught a few blips off the coast of Madagascar. Our commanding officer, who was also the official wearer of the school mascot costume at home football games, ordered our battleship and guided missile cruiser – gifts of the National Honor Society and Future Business Leaders of America, respectively – in for a closer look.

“Identify yourselves,” Kevin said into the microphone, which no one except him seemed to know was not connected to the unknown ships.  “Prepare the guns,” he said to the crew, who were making posters for a pep rally. “This could get ugly.”

Our ships were moved into position and guns aimed. Now we were worried about the math test in third period and the possibility of war.

“Man the cannon!” Kevin said. “Ready, aim…”

“Wait! Wait!” said the Class Gluten-Free Bake Sale Coordinator. “What’s that on the side of the ships? I think it says…Go Wildcats?”

Yes, it was our dear rivals from the neighboring town. Looks like they had obtained for themselves a navy. Had it not been for the unsteady block printing and pathetic drawing of a wildcat on the sides of the ships, we would have launched on them and probably have had to make up our math test.  The near risk of war marked a turning point in the relationship of our schools, and I can safely say that today we are not rivals but allies.

Editor’s Note:  It turns out that the San Diego School District has returned the armored vehicle.  I hope they kept the receipt.

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Filed under Current Events, Government, School

Remember When the World Cup Wasn’t On?

I was walking down the street, with my headphones on, listening to Sir John Gielgud’s performance of the “To Be, Or Not To Be” soliloquy from Hamlet.  Suddenly a long black car pulled up to the curb beside me, and two large men with black suits got out and pulled me into the car.  They blindfolded me, I imagine so that I could not see their faces, or perhaps they wanted to surprise me with a gift, the way parents would do after we lit the Hanukkah candles.

Then someone spoke to me.

“We heard that you said football was boring.”

I protested and said that I never said such a thing, that I love football and cherish every tackle as if it was happening to me or someone I loved.  There was some whispering, and then the man who spoke cleared his throat and spoke again.

“I mean, we heard that you said that soccer was boring.”

I tried to remember if I ever said that soccer was boring.

“Well, I certainly remember thinking it,” I admitted.  “But saying it?  I’m afraid I don’t remember.  I mean, I’m not saying I didn’t say it.  I’m saying I just don’t remember if I said it or not.”

The car stopped moving and the door opened and someone led me out of the car.  We walked for a while and I wondered if I was going to be killed for thinking or perhaps even saying that soccer was boring.  Then I remembered that many great people had died for a deeply held belief, and I was comforted.

Then someone stopped me, and removed my blindfold.  I was standing in the middle of a field.  It was a sunny day, and I felt around for my prescription sunglasses, and realized that I had left them at home.  Then someone called to me from my left.

I turned and a large man in a black suit, perhaps one of the pair who had kidnapped me, was standing by a soccer ball.

“We are going to show you how much fun soccer is!”  And he kicked the ball over to me.

“Now kick it back,” he said cheerfully.  I kicked it back.  I admit it was a little fun, kicking a ball.  I’ve never been able to hit a baseball or throw a perfect spiral.  But kicking a soccer ball?  It’s just like kicking a TV that doesn’t work, except it rolls.

The man kicked the soccer ball in different direction, and I saw that the person he had kicked it to looked as confused and out of place as I did.  Without a word, he kicked the ball back to the kidnapper, who then gracefully kicked the ball in yet another direction to yet another person looking confused and out of place.  I turned my body around a full 360 degrees, and saw many other people standing around, looking confused and out of place, all with a look that said, “I can’t believe I’m standing here playing soccer.”  I was apparently part of a soccer game designed to expose soccer to people who were rumored to have said that soccer was boring.

I don’t know how long I was out there.  Time seemed to stand still as we kicked the ball to this person, then to that person, then to that person.  It was too hot to run around, so we all just stood there kicking the ball.  But after a while it was kind of fun.  Just kick the ball.  At some point someone asked the kidnapper how much time was left in the game.  The kidnapper signaled to the sideline, and two other large men with black suits came onto the field, hit the person over the head with something, and dragged him off the field, his heels leaving tracks in the grass.  He did not return to the game.

At some point the soccer ball disappeared, and we were blindfolded one at a time.  I was led to the car, told to get in, and driven a distance.  Then the car stopped, the door opened, the blindfold removed, and I’m let out of the car.  The kidnapper who played with us was standing next to me.

“You see?  Now you know how much fun foot – I mean, how much fun soccer is.  Tell all your friends!”

The car drove off and I wandered down the street.  I passed a bar where people were watching World Cup soccer, and I walked inside.  The players on the screen were kicking the ball from one to another, just as I had been doing a short while before.  I thought about how much fun I had been having.  I remember the satisfying feeling of kicking the ball, and projected my feelings onto the players on the TV.  No one in that bar was more focused on the game than I was, and soon I started to feel like I was actually in the game.  I was living soccer!  This is what they were talking about!

I lasted almost five minutes.  Then I felt around for my headphones, put them on, walked out of the bar, and continued listening to Sir John Gielgud as the melancholy Prince of Denmark.

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Remember When Virtual Reality Was More Virtual Than Reality?

Facebook’s Director of Newfangled Operations was sitting at his desk, reading reviews on Yelp for a good place to get turkey salad. An assistant knocked at his door.

“Come in, come in,” he said, facing the assistant. “So what’s the good word?”

photo of human wearing virtual reality headgear

Photo courtesy of Sensics, Inc. via Wikipedia.

“Well, sir, you know that ever since we acquired the virtual reality company Oculus VR, the, uh, upper management has been anxious to learn about the user experience.”

“Yes, yes,” the Director said. “And what is the user experience? Do the people, the salt of the earth, the great unwashed masses yearning to be free…do they like virtual reality?”

“Yes, they do, but—”

“But what? Are people displeased with the gaming?”

“No, they love it. They say the exploding bodies have never been more life like.”

“Are they able to access enough pornography?”

“Of course. We’ve enabled even individuals with visual, hearing, and tactile disabilities to enjoy it. A Congressional committee has commended us.”

“Don’t tell me they’re concerned about privacy.”

“Most people accept the theory that privacy was a myth originated by the Sumerians around the same time as the Epic of Gilgamesh.”

“Well what then?”

“Sir, the users’ concern is that when they wear the virtual reality headgear, they can’t tell if people are touching their food.”

The Director stared at the assistant for a few moments. “Touching their food?”

“Yes, you know. Like putting their hands all over a bowl of potato chips, and then watching while the virtual reality user eats the potato chips that have just been touched.”

The Director was a silent a moment. “I see how this could be quite a problem.”

“Sir, should we tell Mr. Zuckerberg? Perhaps—”

“No! Mr. Zuckerberg doesn’t like problems.” The Director chewed on a nail. “We’ve got to fix this ourselves.”

The solution was to offer virtual reality users the services of someone who would sit in the same room with them, without wearing headgear, and would stand guard over the users’ food or drink or bodily integrity. These hired individuals—called “guardians”—could also watch coats and book bags. And for a while it worked.

But then people started to worry that these guardians were doing things to them that they had been hired to prevent. What if the guardians had been bribed by someone who wanted to dip a finger in the users’ coffee and stir it around? How would the users ever know?

So then the guardians were scraped and instead the headgear was fitted with a little camera that would broadcast the user’s immediate surroundings through a little window in the corner of the headgear’s screen. So now users could watch the real world while they were immersed in virtual reality.

After a while, users found that watching their real life surroundings was more interesting than the virtual world. If they were alone, they could watch an empty room and see if anyone came in. If they were in a room with other users, they could watch a bunch of other people wearing headgear, bobbing around in their seats and waving their hands.

Users started talking to each other while they were immersed in virtual reality. Now that they could see everyone else in the room, they could talk freely, knowing that they weren’t speaking to an empty room. At first they talked about the virtual reality simulation they were using at the moment. But soon they moved on to other topics, like the weather, or upcoming weddings, or what each of them had done that day. Tech bloggers dubbed this growing practice of in-person conversation while wearing the headgear “non-virtual reality.”

Non-virtual reality became so popular that the software engineers kept enlarging the size of the window projected on the inner screen. Before long, this window took up the entire screen, so that when the users put the virtual reality headgear on, they saw a live, perfectly to-scale rendering of the same exact scene they would see if they took the headgear off.

“Sir!” the assistant said, entering the Director’s office with the headgear on. “Your program is a complete success! It is reported that 98% of the world’s population now walks around with headgear on all the time.”

“Splendid!” said the Director, wearing his own headgear. “But who are the 2% that aren’t wearing headgear? Are they from those primitive societies that walk around in loincloths and star in those movies they show at the Museum of Natural History?”

“No, sir. That was our initial theory, too. But it turns out that the 2% are hardcore techies.”

“Techies! But how can that be?”

“They say the original headset was better.”

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Remember When Extinction Was Permanent?

I read in the newspaper that scientists have figured out how to bring back extinct animals like passenger pigeons and woolly mammoths. So filled with possibilities was my brain that I kept giving customers incorrect change. As I rollerbladed home that evening the words in the article kept going through my head.

Thanks to advances in genomic sequencing, the woolly mammoth will once again roam the steppes of Asia.

The idea appealed to me in a way I could not yet describe. Bringing back extinct animals – yes, that was impressive and would certainly be a boon for the manufacturers of squishy toys. But the real potential here was something even greater. Over my usual dinner of Cheerios I had a vision.

I am eight years old and I am sitting at the kitchen table. The morning sun is shining and I am eating a bowl of something called Ghostbusters cereal. The cereal is made of multicolored Os of grain and little dense marshmallows that don’t seem quite like food but melt it my mouth nonetheless.

Suddenly my father comes by holding open a garbage bag.

These sugary cereals are making you crazy,” he says, sweeping the nearly full box of Ghostbusters cereal into the large black plastic bag. I am devastated.

That was the last I saw of the great sugary cereals. Cereals made of pure sugar and oat-like structures with a commercial tie-in to a popular television show or movie. I blink back tears. Now I know why the article about un-extincting extinct animals moved me so.

I dress in all black and make sure there are batteries in my flashlight. The museum is a few miles but Mom is glad to drive me and doesn’t ask too many questions. Closing time was hours ago but I’ve seen enough movies to know how to cut a hole in the glass skylight and drop in like a spider.

In between the Monets and Caravaggios is the crowl jewel of the collection: extinct breakfast cereals, on loan from the Smithsonian. Behind heavy glass the boxes are lined up in diaramas. My eyes linger over each one. Mr. T Cereal, Smurf Berry Crunch, Nintendo Cereal System, Bill & Ted’s Excellent Cereal, and…oh yes…Ghostbusters Cereal (with Slimer inside).

These cereals have been off supermarket shelves for decades. These are last survivors, their genetic structures and free toys perfectly preserved for the viewing public, and a day when science fiction would finally become science.

The genomes of these cereals turned out to be not as complicated as I’d feared. All I really had to do was add milk, and the colored oats and marshmallows would distintegrate into an extremely sweet primordial soup. Then boil off the milk, implant the leftover cereal residue into boxes of newer cereals that are still in circulation, and voila – resurrection.

For days I was in a dream state. I was eating cereals that were supposed to be long dead. I pittied the poor fool that couldn’t eat Mr. T cereal for breakfast, lunch, and dinner.

And then one morning I realized I had been up for days, functioning on nothing more than the sugar rush from the cereals. I wanted to stop but could not. I ate one bowl after another. Suddenly it was clear to me what was going on. These cereals had been created and marketed to kids in another time. Our present environment had no defenses against the glazed oats and marshmallows. If only I had not been so eager and fallen victim to human folly.

Just when I thought I would never be free of the sugar rush, my father appeared.

Dad, you were right,” I said. “It’s too late for me, but you can still save yourself.”

But instead of running away, I saw that he was holding something. It was a large, black, plastic garbage bag. I rubbed my eyes.

In one motion my father swept the resurrected cereals into the bag, and tied it shut with the built-in plastic drawstring. I could see the boxes writhing inside. He ran out of the house, just in time to catch the garbage truck, which was techinically only supposed to pick up paper, but could be bribed into taking some extra baggage.

And as I watched the truck drive away, I soberly reflected on the danger of bringing back creatures long extinct. Sometimes your curiosity gets the best of you.

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